Doing a “Little Nellie”

The Piaggio RR39F Orion
The Piaggio RR39F Orion

In January 2015, I wrote about my purchase of Ape Piaggio’s Kv23H FoilStream power boat, which I’ve come to really enjoy when in the mood to zap around on the water 🙂 . Since then, Ape has produced a new vehicle in her range. Not a boat, this time – an aircraft. Or more precisely, an autogyro, which I’ve recently had the opportunity to take out and about.

The RR39F Orion is a beautiful little two-seat (side-by-side configuration) autogyro with a fully enclosed cabin. Bright yellow in its default colour, I was immediately put in mind of James Bond’s famous “Little Nellie”, even though the two vehicles are worlds apart, and may even end up calling my Orion “Nellie” when I get around to repainting it!

The Piaggio RR39F Orion - flying past a familiar landmark on Blake Sea
The Piaggio RR39F Orion – flying past a familiar landmark on Blake Sea

For those unfamiliar with the concept, an autogyro is essentially a combination aeroplane and helicopter, using a propeller engine for thrust, and a set of unpowered rotors in autorotation to generate lift and keep the craft airborne. This means it takes-off like a ‘plane, and can hover, descend and land like a helicopter (although it cannot hover and ascend like a helicopter).

This combination of characteristics means an autogyro can take a little time to master – and Ape’s Orion is no exception to this rule. Which should not be taken to mean it cannot be fun to fly; quite the reverse in fact. Half the fun in flying it is mastering it, and once it is properly understood, then it is an absolute joy to fly.

The aircraft comes complete with a HUD, texture maps (for custom painting), an additional paint kit (plain white), and a custom paint applier for your own designs and a manual. Often, when flying aircraft in SL, the instinct is to hop in, start-up and fly. With the Orion, I seriously suggest an appetiser of RTFM (Read The Flippin’ Manual) is the first order of business.

The Piaggio RR39F Orion is a "pusher" autogyro, with the egine mounted bhind the cabin, and facing the rear
The Piaggio RR39F Orion is a “pusher” autogyro, with the engine mounted behind the cabin, and facing the rear

The Orion has three operational modes: automatic, semi-automatic and manual. When flying in the first two modes, everything in terms of getting powered-up and ready to fly is taken care of for you, and you’ll only need the HUD for activating the lights and GPS system (if flying in Mouselook). If you’re flying in manual mode, you will need the HUD and the aforementioned RTFM time; like many real autogyros, the Orion has some very specific steps to getting airborne, including pre-rotating the overhead blades.

In the air, I found the Orion light and responsive, and could handle region crossings very well, both when flying it alone and with a passenger on board (I volunteered my Crash Test Alt for the privilege, rather than risking dunking a friend in Blake Sea 🙂 ). I did find the camera position a little high, giving the Orion the look of being nose-high in level flight, so you may, like me, find yourself using the hover text rate of climb / descent indicator to monitor your horizontal flight, and you may need to keep an eye on the rotor RPM reading as well. So just like real flying, using this autogyro can be a case of learning to trust your instruments over instinct!

The Orion's cockpit includes fully working switches, CRT, GPS and even a media centre!
The Orion’s cockpit includes fully working switches, CRT, GPS and even a media centre!

The Orion handled well in Mouselook flying and, like the FoilStream, there is a GPS option on the dashboard which tracks your progress across the grid, while the pilot’s CRT will keep you informed of airspeed, etc., as well the hover text, which also re-aligns inside the cabin when using ML. A nice touch is that all the control switches in the cockpit work, although using them in ML will likely required a the use of CTRL-0 and CTRL-9, etc., to flip them. As with Ape’s boats, the cabin also has a built-in TV / media display.

A menu, accessed by touching the aircraft or by clicking on the menu option on the HUD, provides access to various setting – flight mode, throttle mode (digital = increase / decrease throttle by 10% increments; analogue = press and hold PAGE UP or PAGE DOWN to increase / decrease throttle). Digital works great when flying, however, when moving around on the ground, 10% (the minimum setting for the digital throttle) is a tad bit racy and may cause ground controllers (and other pilots at busy airports) to get a little apoplectic as you race along taxiways, so I recommend the analogue setting, which offers a more granular increase / decrease in throttle settings for ground movements. The menu also provides access to the paint controls, added skis for flying from snow, and setting-up the Orion so it can be flown by a friend.

The RR39F Orion alongside my MD900 Explorer
The RR39F Orion alongside my MD900 Explorer

I can’t actually vouch for the painting system; right now I’m without my primary PC and running everything via SL Go, therefore I don’t have the means to download the supplied texture files full-size, so that’s something that will have to wait.

Overall, the Orion is a great little aircraft; fun to master, fun to fly, and with some nice options and touches, as I’d expect, given the creator. I  had fun putting it through its paces – and discovering some of the ways in which you can end up going for an unexpected landing (or if over water – a sudden bath). I found it flies well, handles two avatars on board without too much in the way of camera issues. If there is perhaps one thing it is missing, it’s a brake function for better ground movements control; jiggling the throttle, especially in analogue mode, can be fiddly at times. But, that said, I’m looking forward to flying the Orion again when my “big” PC comes back and can be used, and in getting it set with a custom paint scheme!

Price at the time of writing: L$1750; construction: mesh. LI:  29.

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